Political geographer David Storey tells us how football reflects complex connections between people, place and identity.
As a political geographer, my interest in football conveniently dovetails with my academic interests in territory, place and identity.
Football can, with some validity, be regarded as the ultimate global game.
Colonial connections partly explain its early geographic diffusion while its growing contemporary popularity is bolstered through global media coverage and merchandising relating to international teams and European club sides.
Football's popularity is most likely linked to its flexibility; it requires little in the way of expensive technical equipment. Some open space, imagination and improvisation are all that is required.
Balls can be manufactured out of almost anything allowing young people to play on patches of ground virtually anywhere.
Football is one medium through which the global and the local intersect.
The children kicking an improvised ball may dream of stardom. Indeed, recent decades have seen African countries make some impact on the international stage with five African teams competing in the 2014 World Cup finals, and two (Algeria and Nigeria) making it through to the knock-out stage.
South Africa's hosting of the 2010 tournament certainly promoted interest in the sport on the continent but also sparked external interest, seen in the publication of an array of books on football in Africa.
To an extent, football puts places on the map.
Senegal's historic win over France, the former title holders, at the 2002 World Cup is a classic example of a country little known to many attaining David and Goliath style victory, a feat all the more resonant for the Senegalese as it came at the expense of their former colonial power.
Football in Africa remains bound into wider global processes, and players are increasingly part of a global sports labour market. The out-migration of young footballing talent to western Europe (particularly France and Spain) is a growing phenomenon.
On the one hand, such routes to migration are the result of historical, linguistic and colonial connections. But increasingly, transnational scouting systems, football agents, and the growth of academies in African countries (who act as conduits of talent to European clubs) encourage more diverse movements to places such as Russia and Ukraine.
While the rewards of a top-class career prove enticing for many, the reality for others may be radically different. Not everyone becomes Ivory Coast's Didier Drogba or Ghana's Michael Essien. There is serious concern over the fate of teenagers some of whom find themselves alone on the streets of European cities after failing to sufficiently impress an elite club.
The migration of talented footballers clearly has negative consequences for the development of football in Africa, as the best players seek better wages and greater fame outside of Africa.
Another dimension to this loss of talent is the number of players born in Africa, or of African parentage, who represent European countries in international competition.
One of the world's great players, Eusebio, who died recently, although forever associated with Portugal and SL Benfica was actually born and brought up in Mozambique.
A long history of migration means that many French teams of recent years have featured players of African origin. Most notably Zinedine Zidane and Karim Benzema - both born in France to Algerian parents.
Flexible and fluid
While the incorporation of these players reflects a more multi-cultural French society (a phenomenon decried by the French far right) some might wish they wore the colours of the familial homeland. The current multi-ethnic Belgian team features players from a range of immigrant backgrounds such as Marouane Fellaini, whose father was a Moroccan footballer, and Romelu Lukaku whose father played for Zaire (now DR Congo).
Alongside this, something of a reverse process is taking place, as countries take advantage of more flexible regulations. Algeria has effectively reclaimed many sons of its diaspora. The majority of players in its current World Cup squad were born in France to Algerian migrant parents.
This highlights the fluidity and multi-layered nature of national identity in football today. Belgium’s captain, Vincent Kompany (born in Brussels to a Congolese father and Belgian mother) recently declared himself to be both 100% Belgian and 100% Congolese.
This transnationalism has also given rise to the intriguing phenomenon of siblings playing for different countries. The Berlin-born Boateng half-brothers lined up against each other at the current and previous World Cups. Kevin Prince Boateng plays for Ghana (their father's birthplace) and Jerome represents Germany where their mother was born.
Football reflects many of the complex connections between people, place and identity.
The enjoyment experienced by Malian children kicking their makeshift 'ball' is mirrored in recent days as fans have taken to the streets of Marseille's old port area in displays of public jubilation for the Algerian team success in the World Cup. In that same place, a few years ago a billboard poster of Zidane (the son of Algerian immigrants) was prominently displayed, hailing the local sporting hero of France’s national team.